“Nobody has ever measured, not even poets, how much the heart can hold.” –Zelda Fitzgerald
My formal workday at school ends at 1:55 PM.
And since last September I have left at 1:55 PM on the dot to pick up my youngest son whose day at preschool ends at 2:15 PM. His school is roughly 16 minutes from where I work; so, as long as there is no traffic I can generally make it with four minutes to spare.
And while I relish those 16 minutes of quiet, of time to myself, I am always eager—very eager—to see my son. My baby. A four-year-old boy with a smile that lights up a room, with a laugh that comes from the inner recesses of his soul.
Forty-five minutes later we pick up his brothers; so, really, it is the only time for just him and me. We share Tic-Tacs, chat about school, listen to music, dance in our seats.
I love this time—especially since I’ve known for some time it’s coming all-too-fast to a screeching halt.
I just didn’t think it would be today.
Today—not unlike any other day—I was getting the car ready for our after-school adventure—mints in the cup holder, Tom Petty (his new favorite) cued in the CD player. I even had a few leftover candy corn from a weekend birthday party at the ready, an extra surprise.
I parked my car, walked up the path, and saw my son surrounded by his friends. He has made great friends in preschool and talks about them endlessly. These relationships are important to him; and I remain grateful that these connections are being nurtured and encouraged throughout his school day.
There was no reason for me to believe today would be any different. Typically he sees me coming, lights up in such a way that would feed any parent’s soul, then impishly scampers off. He might hide, play a trick or two, or balk about having to leave; but leave he always does, extricating from his friends and ready for our reunion at the end of a long day.
Today, though he was jumping up and down at my arrival, it was due less to his being happy to see me and more because he was brimming, breathlessly eager to ask me a question: “Mom, can I stay a little while longer at school? We’re cooking today!”
My son’s preschool offers an after-school program. Each day is dedicated to a different theme, and the fact that this option is available should we need it is a comfort. But so far we haven’t needed it. I get out of work early enough that after-school care is generally not required. Many of his friends stay, and today is the day he decided he wanted to stay with them.
That he would prefer to be with them.
It would be easy, I think, to become wistful tonight, to sigh and think it’s just too soon, to be sad that today he chose time with his friends over time with his mother.
But that wouldn’t be fair—to him or to me. Because what his decision speaks to is just how secure he is, how loved he knows he is—that he can ask, that I can say yes, and that he knows I will be back—him, no worse for the wear; me, still just as crazy about him as I ever was.
It’s the source of a parent’s pride. Indeed it’s parenting’s noblest, most selfless goal: a child’s independence.
But it comes at a cost—fair, to be sure, but by no means small.
Our hearts. Just our hearts.